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Wit, wine define man’s life

Not only could Neil Vreeland recognize a wine merely by taste, he could also make a pretty good guess on which year it was made, and even identify the winery where it was bottled.

And almost all the time he was right, according to Julie Holmes, his colleague of 10 years at the Indian Springs Vineyard tasting room in Nevada City.

While most friends of the 75-year-old Grass Valley man – who died on March 20 – will remember him for his prodigious knowledge of wine, they will also cherish his gregarious personality.



“A great guy with a tremendous sense of humor, a great mind for trivia, personable and friendly” is how Vreeland’s nephew, Craig Davis of Grass Valley, described his uncle.

“I kind of refer to him as the lips that launched a million quips,” Davis said Friday. “Neil would always turn a word or phrase into something funny.”




Holmes agreed.

“He had an incredible wit and an incredible way of playing on words and making wonderful jokes,” she said. “He did all the describing of the wines at the tasting room. Because he had a vast knowledge base and incredible wit, his description of wine would be creative and interesting.”

Vreeland played the bass and loved big-band music, Holmes said. According to Dennis Ball, owner of Indian Springs Vineyard, Vreeland was especially interested in the swing music of the 1930s and ’40s.

He lived by himself just a few yards from his only sibling, Dorothy Davis, on Meadow Drive off Highway 174.

“My brother and I always got along,” she said. “He was very friendly to everybody. He knew more people in town than we did, I think sometimes.”

Dorothy Davis last spoke to her brother just a few hours before he died after suffering an apparent heart attack on Brunswick Road while walking in the snow. He had reportedly stopped to help after he saw a school bus slide off the road.

Davis said he brother had a heart attack several years ago and an angioplasty.

Jim Harte, chief operating officer of Global Wine Group based in Lodi, met Vreeland in 1995. Vreeland was introduced to him as an authority on port wine. Harte soon invited him to speak at a cigar and port wine event he hosted at a restaurant he owned at the time in Grass Valley.

“I’ll always remember him as the focal point of attention,” Harte said. “A lot of people had a great deal of respect for his wine knowledge. But I always enjoyed his sense of humor. He always seemed to have the ability to command everyone’s attention so when he started speaking, it would be like the old EF Hutton ads. Neil had a big voice so he could be heard.

“When someone met him for the first time, he would leave an impression on them, and they would remember him fondly.”

Vreeland again will be remembered by his friends on Tuesday when a celebration of his life will be held at the Indian Springs tasting room.

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To contact staff writer Soumitro Sen, e-mail at soumitros@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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